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February is American Heart Month

Yes, February makes us think of Valentine’s Day and love is in the air, but what about your heart health?

Fact is, heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. Heart disease affects all women differently, and signs and symptoms are different for women than they are for men. There are many misconceptions about heart disease in women. Making sure you are well informed about your own personal health, risk factors and actions you can take can help you keep your heart healthy and strong.

The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement ( advocates for more research and swifter action for women’s heart health. Their first recommendation for women is to “Know Your Numbers.” Women are encouraged to schedule a visit with their doctor to learn their personal health numbers including blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI) and assess their risk for heart disease and stroke.

Once you have met with your doctor and understand your five key numbers, you should assess your risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Some risk factors will be out of your control unfortunately, but others can be treated, managed or controlled with the help of your doctor:

Risk factors that can be managed:

  • High blood pressure – high blood pressure makes the heart work harder than normal. If untreated, it scars and damages your arteries. For women, you are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure if you are 20lbs+ overweight, have a family history of high blood pressure or have reached menopause

  • Smoking - smoking increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times. When you stop smoking, your risk for heart disease and stroke can be cut in half just one year later and continues to decline until it’s as low as a nonsmoker’s risk

  • High blood cholesterol – cholesterol can build in the inner walls of your arteries over time. When it hardens, it turns into plaque. The plaque can narrow arteries and reduce blood flow which can cause heart problems

  • Lack of exercise – Lack of physical activity can cause blood clots, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other heart related problems

  • Obesity or overweight – being overweight strains your heart and raises your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as increases your risk for diabetes

  • Diabetes – Adults with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes

Risk factors you can’t control:

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Family health history

  • Race

  • Previous stroke or heart attack

While we all know you can’t change risk factors like age and family history, the good news is that even small changes to your lifestyle and diet can help improve your heart health and lower your risk by as much as 80%. What are some changes you can make today to improve your heart health?

  • Manage your blood pressure – Reduce the strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys

  • Control cholesterol levels – Clear your arteries of blockages

  • Reduce blood sugar – Reduce added sugars in your diet. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance

  • Get active – Daily activity can increase your length and quality of life

  • Eat better – Easier said than done, but your heart will thank you for it. A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting heart disease

  • Lose weight – Reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton

  • Stop Smoking – A no brainer!

Increasing the awareness of heart disease in women keeps more women healthy and ultimately, saves lives. Know your own personal risks for the disease and take action so you can lead a heart healthy life!

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